Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Irony of the Conservative Economic Message

Prime Minister Harper's message in this election campaign is that Canadians should fear  a minority Liberal government supported by the NDP and/or the Bloc Quebecois on the grounds that this would create financial instability and jeopardize economic recovery.  But this fear  is not only exaggerated; it is  profoundly ironic. 

That is because the primary reasons for Canada's relative economic stability are not anything in the Conservatives' rather tepid "Action Plan", but because of what both Paul Martin and Stephen Harper were prevented from doing in the years before the Financial Crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession of 2009.

During that period, the banking industry, business organizations and conservative think tanks were all gazing enviously  at the reforms of the financial sector that were happening in the United States, such as the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Stegal Act.  The Liberal Government of Paul Martin and the Conservative government of Stephen Harper were consequently quite interested in bank mergers so that Canadian mega-banks could compete internationally with the big international investment banks as well as the new global hedge funds. The quid pro quo for this, which would be needed to compensate Canadians for the reduced competition in the domestic banking industry, would be to let more American financial institutions into the Canadian market, along with all kinds of new and innovative financial products. The "financial innovation" that the Bush administration liked to brag about was set to come into Canada; and it was in a similar spirit that the Conservatives even included the encouragement of sub-prime mortgages in their first budget in 2006. (Luckily, this policy was reversed  the following year as home foreclosures started to become a crisis in the U.S.)

In other words, Canadians enjoy their superior financial stability in part because we did not have a Conservative government prior to 2006 and in part because we have only had minority governments since 2004. While we could not escape all of the effects of  collateralized debt obligations and securitized subprime mortgages in Canada, since our banks still traded in these securities, we nonetheless avoided the disaster of having to bail out a merged Royal Bank /Bank of Montreal or CIBC/TD to the tune of billions of dollars; and we only promoted subprime mortgages for a year or two.

It is doubtful that we would have been as safe from that danger if  Stephen Harper  had come to office sooner, or if either Martin or Harper had had the policy latitude afforded by a majority government. Thank God for small favours.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Grim Prospect

A ll I wanted for the New Year was:

1) Christy Clark not to become leader of the Liberals

2) Adrian Dix not to become leader of the NDP

3) Stephen Harper not to get a majority

Yet Clark wins over her simple minions by touting her light baggage; Dix surges to the fore by taking instant memberships and ethnic bloc-voting to a new level;  and the prime minister dismisses the Speakers' ruling  that the government flouted the rights of Parliament by refusing to provide parliamentarians with information about the cost of its key programs,  as mere "parliamentary procedure", stressing the importance of the "economy" instead.   Polls suggest that he might get away with it.

Our politics is drifting into shallow waters indeed.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Last Testament of Jim Travers

One of  last columns written by the late Jim Travers was also one of the most illuminating commentaries that I have read on the Harper Government. In "Harper's Changing the Country more than we realize" (Toronto Star, January 18). Mr.Travers documented the most important ways in which the Harper government has re-framed issues in this country. 

Wrong-footing rivals is the Prime Minister’s favourite dance step. Those who criticize building super-prisons, Canada’s laissez-faire environment record or Canada’s diminished international reputation are quickly forced to defend themselves against message track charges that they don’t share Conservative concerns about victims of crime, energy jobs or principled values.
Other examples abound. All are connected by two national capital realities. One is that Liberals, the one other party remotely capable of forming a government, either can’t conceive or articulate an alternative vision. The other is that the only time Harper’s opponents found the courage to unequivocally say “no” was during the 2008 Christmas constitutional crisis when the Prime Minister’s plan to end public funding for parties directly threatened their interests.
Blowing through such limp reeds is light work for a minority Prime Minister who more often than not is able to operate as if he won a majority. Just as significantly, it allows Conservatives to uncouple their actions from results.
Rarely has that disconnect been more obvious than in current pre-election positioning. Conservatives are taking a stand on corporate tax cuts while lunging a second time at party subsidies. They’re not documenting how more breaks for already lightly taxed big business will create jobs, stimulate productivity or boost international competitiveness. They’re not explaining why a feel-good promise to cut the purse strings to federal parties isn’t a slippery-slope step backwards to the bad old days of backroom bagmen, influence pedalling and tollgating federal contracts for political donations. ......................
.........Missing, too, from the national dialogue are looming challenges that dwarf the importance of topics Conservatives prefer discussing. Off the table and out of mind are, among many things, are the future of universal health care, the complex transition from hewing wood and drawing water to a post-industrial economy, and Canada’s changing place in a rapidly evolving, helter-skelter worldSome prime ministers are moulded by their times, others shape them. Harper is squarely in both categories.
 The ultimate cleverness of Harper's strategy lies in the way that he is wrong-footing the Canadian people. Even though upon assuming office he disowned his own frequently stated determination to do away with universal medicare, his determination to cut corporate taxes  and the GST  while building prisons and beefing up the military can only mean one thing--less money left over for health and social transfers. He is preparing the ground for his last, most important assault on Canada as we know it. Jim Travers warned us.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Leonard Krog for Premier

A lot of New Democrats will be tempted to fight fire with fire and elect media-savvy professional politico Adrian Dix to do battle with media-savvy premier Christy Clark. Since this is a TV world, and Clark and Dix have had the most media exposure, they were both likely to rise to the top.  The Hollow Man can beat the Shallow Woman, the reasoning goes, especially since her party has already been in office for a decade.

 Resistance to this logic is probably futile, but I shall keep on trying.

I beg to differ with the conventional wisdom: fight fire with water, shallowness with substance. Leonard Krog is an intelligent man who has both succesfully raised a family (I taught his daughter, who is a fine person, when I was an instructor at Malaspina) and had his own law practice in Nanaimo. He has the warmth of personality and subtle humour of someone who is real and has led a full life.  He is into his third term as a MLA, and  with that plus his legal background  I think that he could handle the transition to power as well as most people.

B.C. needs someone with the moderate temperment and balanced vision of Mike Harcourt, but with  a bit more gravitas and personality. David Vickers or Tom Berger would have been ideal, but are not available. Joy McPhail is deserving, but tired of the business and thus not a candidate; Gregor Robertson is not quite yet ready.  Leonard Krog fits the bill and should do fine.